If you’d like to try a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn), Kyoto is the place. Kyoto has the Japan’s best selection of ryokan in all price ranges. Here, we explain ryokan and give our top picks, all personally inspected.
In a hurry? Scroll down for our top ryokan picks, otherwise, read the following sections for an introduction to Kyoto ryokan.
What is a ryokan?
Simply put, a ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn. That means, the room, and (sometimes) the entire building, is Japanese style. So, you sleep in futons on tatami mat floors. Ryokan usually include meals in their prices, but some places allow you to choose breakfast only or no meals. At nice places, you are served your meals in your room, which is a wonderful experience. Traditionally, even fancy ryokan had only common bathtubs, but these days, many ryokan have en suite bathtubs and bathrooms.
You’ve probably seen pictures of ryokan. These are usually pictures of high-end ryokan, which are traditional wooden buildings with superb gardens. Kyoto’s high-end ryokan are great examples of such ryokan. However, most mid-budget and budget ryokan are actually built inside modern buildings that look much like hotels from the outside: Only the service and the guestrooms are traditionally Japanese.
Tawaraya Ryokan – image © InsideKyoto.com
How do you stay at a ryokan?
Staying at a ryokan is a little different from staying in a hotel. First, you remove your shoes in the lobby (usually where you step up from ground level into the lobby area). Next, you are shown to your room, where a cup of tea and a traditional sweet or cracker will be waiting. If it’s already evening, you will change into the yukata (light robe) that the ryokan provides. At a nice place, you will be served dinner in your room, otherwise, you will dine in a common room with other guests, or in a restaurant. After dinner, you will take a bath either in your own bathroom or in a common bath. While you are bathing, a maid will lay out your futons.
Of course, many cheaper and more modern places may skip some or all of these steps and your stay will be pretty much like staying in a hotel – the only difference will be the futons and tatami mats instead of beds and carpets.
I’ve written a detailed piece with lots of photos about staying a night in Tawaraya, Japan’s finest ryokan, which might help you decide if the ryokan experience is for you.
Seikoro Ryokan – image © InsideKyoto.com
How much does it cost to stay at a ryokan?
People are sometimes surprised by the rates at ryokan, which seem higher than hotels at first glance. And, you should keep in mind that ryokan rates are often quoted as per person, rather than per room. But, before you conclude that ryokan are overpriced, remember that ryokan rates usually include one or two meals, and the meals can often be elaborate kaiseki meals. If you figure in what two good meals in restaurants would cost, then the cost of a ryokan can often be quite reasonable. As a guide, here is how we divide ryokan by cost:
budget: less than Y10,000 per person
mid-budget: between Y10,000 and Y20,000 per person
luxury: over Y20,000 per person
Hiiragiya Ryokan – image © InsideKyoto.com
How many nights should you stay at a ryokan?
Staying at a ryokan is slightly more formal and involved than staying at a hotel. It’s a bit like staying at the house of a very gracious friend. But, make no mistake: You should definitely try staying in a ryokan. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime Japanese experience. And, when you think of it, it’s a very rare experience, because traditional accommodations are disappearing in Asia. Other than yurts in Mongolia and losmen in Indonesia, there really aren’t any traditional lodgings left – only standard-issue hotels that are the same everywhere in the world. Thus, ryokan are truly special.
I usually recommend that people stay at a ryokan for one or two nights at the start of their time in Kyoto, and then move to a hotel to enjoy the freedom and ease of staying at a hotel. For some recommended hotels, see our Kyoto Hotels page.
Ryokan Yoshida-sanso © mkorcuska
Kyoto’s best ryokan
Here are our picks for Kyoto’s best ryokan, divided by price and category. I’ve personally inspected all of these, and family, friends and clients have stayed in them and given me their feedback. Any one of these ryokan would be a great place to sample the Japanese ryokan experience!
Kyoto’s best luxury ryokan are among the best ryokan in Japan. Here is where you can sample the true ryokan experience: a superb traditional wooden building, private gardens, sumptuous kaiseki meals, and legendary Kyoto service. For full details and our top picks, visit our Best Ryokan in Kyoto page.
Even at mid-budget prices, you can still enjoy a great ryokan experience. Your choices will range from hotel-style modern ryokan to traditional wooden ryokan. Visit our Best Mid-Budget Ryokan in Kyoto page for our top picks.
There are some great budget ryokan in Kyoto. For our top picks, visit our Best Budget Ryokan in Kyoto page.
Ryokan are a great choice for families, because you can all sleep in the same room. And, in some cases, you can all eat dinner in your room, so you don’t have to worry about kids misbehaving in a restaurant. For our top picks for family-friendly ryokan, visit our Best Kyoto Ryokan for Families page.
Ryokan are inherently romantic. Indeed a few nights in a good Kyoto ryokan would make for a great honeymoon. Visit our Best Kyoto Ryokan for Couples page for our top picks.
If you really want to experience Japanese-style lodgings, but want a bit more freedom, flexibility and space, you might also consider staying in a classic Kyoto machiya (traditional townhouse). Essentially, these are Japanese-style vacation rentals. Visit our Kyoto Machiya page for more details and top picks.
More Kyoto Ryokan info:
- Kyoto Ryokan overview
- Best Luxury Ryokan In Kyoto
- Best Mid Range Ryokan In Kyoto
- Best Budget Ryokan In Kyoto
- Kyoto's Best Ryokan For Families
- Kyoto's Best Ryokan For Couples
- Kyoto Machiya
Best High-End Ryokan In Kyoto
- Tawaraya (Read guest reviews of Tawaraya on TripAdvisor.com)
- Hiiragiya Ryokan (Read guest reviews of Hiiragiya on TripAdvisor.com)
- Tamahan (Read guest reviews of Tamahan on TripAdvisor.com)
- Ugenta (Read guest reviews of Ugenta on TripAdvisor.com)
- Hoshinoya (Read guest reviews of Hoshinoya on TripAdvisor.com)
- Gion Hatanaka (check availability on Booking.com and Agoda.com)
- Seikoro (check availability on Booking.com and Agoda.com)
- Yoshida Sanso (check availability on Booking.com and Agoda.com)
- Garden Ryokan Yachiyo (check availability on Booking.com and Agoda.com)
Best Mid Price Ryokan In Kyoto
- Hirashin Ryokan (check availability on Booking.com or Agoda.com)
- Nishiyama Ryokan (check availability on Booking.com or Agoda.com)
- Ryokan Izuyasu (check availability on Booking.com or Agoda.com)
Best Budget Ryokan In Kyoto
- Kyoto Yoshimizu (Read guest reviews of Kyoto Yoshimizu on TripAdvisor.com)
- Ryokan Shimizu (check availability on Booking.com or Agoda.com)
- Uemera Ryokan (check availability on Booking.com or Agoda.com)
- Matsubaya Ryokan (check availability on Booking.com or Agoda.com)
- Hanakiya Ryokan (check availability on Booking.com or Agoda.com)
- Tanaka-ya (check availability on Booking.com or Agoda.com)
Kyoto Vacation Checklist
- For all the essentials in a brief overview, see my First Time In Kyoto guide
- Check Kyoto accommodation availability on Booking.com - usually you can reserve a room with no upfront payment. Pay when you check out. Free cancellations too.
- Need tips on where to stay? See my one page guide Where To Stay In Kyoto
- See my comprehensive Packing List For Japan
- Buy a data-only SIM card online for collection when you arrive at Kansai International Airport (for Osaka and Kyoto) or Tokyo's Narita Airport. Or rent an unlimited data pocket wifi router.
- Compare Japan flight prices and timings to find the best deals
- If you're visiting more than one city, save a ton of money with a Japan Rail Pass - here's my explanation of why it's worth it
- A prepaid Icoca card makes travelling around Kyoto easy - here's how.
- Get travel insurance for Japan - we recommend World Nomads (and here's why)